Here in the Valley of Too Many English Majors, we avoid numbers in countless ways. Numbers are usually arguable, which should endear them to us, but we know others can do more with numbers, so we steer clear. Sometimes numbers get so large and wide that we can’t get around them. We feel stuck.
The federal budget deficit now strings together more zeroes than Pat Kilkenny’s search for a basketball coach. New taxes will soon become necessary to cover the spread. Accountants will get to work on it next week, just as soon as they rest up after yesterday’s tax deadline. So today is the safest day for English majors to think about numbers and taxes.
The first thing to know about taxes is that we hate them, so we want to tax only things or people we hate more. We call them “sin taxes.”
Americans hate carbon, especially when it gets on their shoes and they find themselves leaving carbon footprints everywhere they go. Since we stopped using carbon paper, a carbon tax has become more popular. Al Gore supports it, and who would ever want a carbon copy of that nag? So a carbon tax fits the bill, but won’t suffice in paying it. We’ll need more new taxes.
President Obama recently formed a commission to study the problem of our budget deficit and to propose solutions after this fall’s elections. Will they propose a national sales tax? Will it be presented as a European-style VAT tax? Do they understand that a VAT tax represents double taxation, because VAT stands for “Value Added Tax” — so a “VAT tax” is literally a “Value Added Tax tax?” Will they regret that not a single English major was appointed to President Obama’s Commission for Unenforceable Recommendations? Speculation abounds.
Which brings us to another thing people wouldn’t mind seeing taxed: speculation. Congressman Peter DeFazio advocated (unsuccessfully) that the bailout for the financial sector be paid for with a minuscule financial transaction tax — one quarter of one percent. Financial markets have gotten so efficient that money moves instantly and virtually without friction, so DeFazio’s proposal would slow things down just a tiny bit and raise tons of money. Financial transactions only capture, never create, wealth.
A financial transactions tax doesn’t soak the rich, per se. It soaks only the rich who don’t think they’re rich enough. I think of it as a discontentment tax. If the rich must be rich, the least they could do is be happy about it. Discontentment may not be a sin, but it’s close enough to fall into the “sin tax” category. Let’s tax it.
Goods and services don’t move quite as efficiently and invisibly as wealth, but it’s getting there. Most of my disposable income goes to my local grocer. If only it stopped there. A tiny tax, based on the distance a item traveled, would recalibrate our buying patterns to reward local and diversified economies. We might find ourselves cooking with limes less in January, but did we really intend for our grocery money to go to Chile? Probably not.
“Buy local” campaigns become popular wherever they sprout up. Our government already requires any imported item to identify its country of origin, but furniture from China and shoes from Thailand and limes from Chile have become acceptable to us because they are cheaper. A tiny transit tax would favor local goods and eventually local pride.
It will slow down the economy a mite, but it also will speed up traffic on our congested highways. If we all waste less time getting where we’re going, we might use the time we saved to become more careful consumers.
And to help that, I would suggest a tiny advertising tax. The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are just like people, and deserve all the same rights. But corporations advertise and people usually don’t, so let’s tax it.
Wrap these ideas together and we’ll have more quality items that sell themselves, made or grown by nearby people, who get and stay wealthy by doing things we value. That will curb our carbon consumption and help our planet, by contented consumers improving one proud place at a time.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) owns a small advertising agency that serves local and civic-minded businesses. He blogs right here. Yes, he was an English major.